Monthly Archives: May 2014

Staff Review: What I Thought Was True

9780803739093What I Thought Was True

Huntley Fitzpatrick



Available now

Gwen’s close Portuguese immigrant family has served the summer resort trade for two generations, and she’s afraid she and her classmates may be yet another. All of her classmates except handsome Cass, exiled from a fancy private school, that is. Gwen tries to avoid Cass as she works in her father’s small restaurant, helps her mother clean houses, spends time as paid companion to a wealthy but frail widow. But Cass seems unavoidable, her parents are living out the tensions of marrying too young, her little brother’s disabilities weigh on her attention, her cousin and best friend are all but engaged at 18, and catering to clueless plutocrats is demeaning – as are the racy rumors of her prior summer relationships.

Yes, it’s a summer romance — but it’s so much more. Fitzpatrick weaves everything together so gracefully: economic goals and opportunities, a little brother with disabilities, plenty of humor, the purposes of marriage, ethnic and cultural divisions, aging, more humor, athletics, and above all, life in a beach community. Readers who love Sarah Dessen will be delighted to discover Huntley Fitzpatrick.

~ Carol

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Staff Review: The Thickety

9780062257246The Thickety: A Path Begins

J. A. White

Andrea Offerman (illustrator)

Katherine Tegen Books


Available now


The Thickety is set on an island where an isolated religious cult is barely surviving, largely due to insistence on ultra restrictive rules. Anything outside the rules is “magic” and must be expunged. Hence our 12-year-old heroine, Kara, has witnessed her mother’s brutal execution at an early age. Kara is viewed as tainted, her father is mad with grief, her beloved little brother Taff is sickly, and things are going downhill fast. A further cause of community struggle is the wilderness area known as the Thickety, which encroaches daily upon the arable land, held back only by a lower caste, the Clearers, who slash and burn like mad in a losing battle against overgrowth. The Thickety’s overlord is Sordyr, the Forest Demon, who comes across as less human and more forceful than Voldemort. Sordyr mirrors the community elders, who make Cotton Mather look as laid back as Jeff Lebowski by comparison.

A mysterious message prompts Kara to venture into the Thickety, where she retrieves a buried package: her mother’s book of spells, a grimoire. It is enormously powerful and therefore addictive, not only to Kara, but also to her arch-rival, blonde Grace Stone. Their struggle for possession is a big chunk of the action. Power shifts this way and that at dizzying speed, alliances and betrayals pile up faster than in Divergent, and the ending is clearly a gateway into Volume 2. The element that feels inappropriate for ages 8-11 is Kara’s brushes with grimoire-induced mental illness. These bouts of cruel, vengeful rage are visitations in the land of mass murder, however briefly, and they are truly unsettling.

The thing that’s superb is the applied imagination: the creatures, the curses, the dangers, celebrations, foods, the chants and rules and agricultural produce are created so fully in language so right that the reader can climb inside it and then, with racing heart, escape with Kara and Lucas at the last possible moment – from terrible risk into grave danger. Presumably film producers are clawing at the gates to get at this juicily cinematic plum.

Note: While we know that neither boys nor girls are put off by violent content in fiction, hopeless betrayal may be another matter, and the politics of demagoguery won’t click below, I’m guessing, about age 12. So I will posit the core audience for The Thickety at ages 12-14, despite the format, which has the look and feel of being aimed at ages 8-12.

~ Carol

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Staff Review: Swim That Rock

9780763669058Swim That Rock

John Rocco and Jay Primiano



Available now

Ever think about how the quahogs get from the bottom of the sea to that bed of crushed ice in the restaurant or grocery? Jake Cole is a 14-year-old Rhode Islander who knows perfectly well what hard work it is, how much skill it requires, and how many hel’ll have to haul on board in order to save his mom’s diner from loan shark foreclosure now that his father has disappeared at sea. There’s just no way he can come up with $10,000 worth by the deadline. But it’s worth working alongside Jake as the authors skilfully pull the community together to pay off the note in a big feel-good finale. The Rhode Island setting is close enough to give many readers a mental picture of the currents, islands, and docks where Jake meets good guys, bad guys, rich guys, poor guys, and a pretty girl who’s also shellfishing on her father’s boat.

~ Carol

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Staff Review: Noggin


John Corey Whaley

Simon & Schuster


Available now

The charming premise of Noggin is that the head of Travis Coates, a 16-year-old cancer victim, has been frozen for five years, and then successfully transplanted onto the (buff) body of another 16-year-old. Travis “awakens” to find himself still 16 in a world where everyone else is five years older and moving on in life. His attempts to get his life “back to normal” are often misguided, and sometimes this leads to moving contemplations of what life is worth. Although Travis and his friends Kyle, Hatton, and Kate are clearly interested in sex, that aspect of their lives is so deftly handled that the book is clean fun, start to finish.

~ Carol

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Staff Review: The Geography of You and Me

T9780316254779he Geography of You and Me

Jennifer E. Smith



Available now

Jennifer Smith, a newly rising YA author, understands how to create sweet and light romances that give you that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with first love. When high school students Lucy and Owen get stuck in a New York City elevator, their initial conversation leads to a single night of roaming the streets of the city. By morning, the two teens go their separate ways. As Lucy hops all over Europe with her parents, and Owen travels throughout the United States with his father, they exchange a scattered emails and postcards that eventually result in meet-ups in San Francisco and New York City. Lucy and Owen’s heart-felt romance shows a unique experience of first love, long-distance relationships, and leaps of faith.

~ Laura


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Customer Review: The Eye of Zoltar

TFC9780547738499he Eye of Zoltar

Jasper Fford



Available October 2014

I absolutely loved this book! It is the third book in the Chronicles of Kazam series and was just as good, if not better than the first two books. I loved Jasper Fforde’s sense of humor. The book is set in modern times except there’s magic, kings, dragons and many more mystical things. For instance the mobile phone network is getting reestablished with magic. There is also pizza delivery service on magic carpets. In this book Jennifer Strange (the main character) goes on a quest that is not a quest — it can’t be an official quest, because then she would have to fill out lots of paperwork with the questing agency. The mighty Shander forces her into going on the quest. He tells her that if she doesn’t get the Eye of Zolter for him, he will kill the dragons she saved in book one. She also gets the responsibility for the spoiled princess in a servant’s body. She also needs to negotiate the release of magician Once Magnificent Boo from her unfair imprisonment. Will she change the princess and turn her into a character fit to rule? Will she save the dragons? Can she get the Once Magnificent Boo back safe and sound? All these questions are answered in The Eye of Zoltar. I would give this book ten out of ten stars, it has something for everyone: mystery, magic, and humor.

~ Helena, age 11

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Indies Introduce: Far From You and The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community.]

Todays Featured Indies Introduce titles are Far From You by Tess Sharp and The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer.

FC9781423184621Far From You

Tess Sharp




Everyone thinks that Mina died because Sophie Winters was buying drugs. It’s true that Sophie is an addict; she started abusing painkillers after a car accident  when she was 14. Mina’s brother Trev was driving. But Sophie has been clean for 6 months, thanks to her aunt. And Sophie would never put Mina in jeopardy like that, not to mention that Mina would never allow Sophie to buy drugs under her watch. So what did happen that night that Mina died? Who shot Mina? Why did they frame Sophie? Why is everyone, including Trev, convinced that it’s Sophie’s fault? Part mystery, part love story, Far From You shatters expectations and deftly spins a story of loss, power, and love.


FC9780385753784The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy

Kate Hattemer

Knopf Books


Ages 13+

Selwyn Academy has become the background for a reality TV show called For Art’s Sake. But there is something rotten and Ethan, along with three of his friends, are determined to discover what. In an age of constant marketing and self-promotion, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy investigates the nuances between art, commercialism, authenticity, performance, the spectacle, drama and ‘drama.’ It also looks at that moment when ideals and success collide. Highly recommended for teen book groups and high school classes. The Vigilante Poets will spark continuous discussion about one of our long-term philosophical debates: What is Art?

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Staff Review: A Guide for the Perplexed


A Guide for the Perplexed

Dara Horn

W. W. Norton


Available now

Josie Ashkenazi was a nerd, which meant her childhood was at times miserable; friendless and taunted by other kids, she had memories she wanted to suppress. As an adult, however, Josie founded a successful software company, was the subject of a nationally televised documentary, married an equally brilliant man, and had a lovely daughter—which only fueled her older sister’s jealousy. Her crown achievement is her software program Genizah, which sorts and tracks information on the user, and to some degree predicts the user’s future. The software stores all memories and information—it does not discriminate.

Josie’s fame brought her to the attention of a museum in Alexandria that had acquired mountains of artifacts and documents that needed sorting. Her Genizah software seems to be the solution. At the prompting of her sister, Josie travels to post-revolutionary Egypt to begin cataloging the ancient materials. On her last day, Josie is kidnapped, forced into solitary confinement, and tortured. Her captors stage her death and post the video of her hanging. All at home assume she has been murdered; her sister Judith seizes this opening and works her way into Josie’s grieving family.

Two other threads weave throughout Josie’s story. One takes place a century earlier as we follow a British professor on the trail of ancient Jewish manuscripts haphazardly stored in a synagogue in Fustat, Egypt. The other goes back in history even further to Maimonides. The latter’s tract, A Guide for the Perplexed, is one that the British professor and Josie have studied and pondered.

Although centuries separate the three characters, common issues persist. What is memory–and who should control or choose what is remembered? What is free will–and does it actually exist if there is an all-knowing god? Is it possible to predict the future? Sibling rivalry and envy loom large in each individual case, with the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers as metaphor. This novel is so satisfying on so many levels, it’s hard to capture everything in a short review! I found myself anxiously waiting for Josie’s fate to be decided (and the ending is quite a surprise) but the philosophical questions that were posed remained with me long after I finished reading A Guide for the Perplexed. This is certainly a book to be read many times.

~ Mary Fran

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Indies Introduce: Knightley and Son and Steering Toward Normal

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community. Over the next few days, I’ll discuss each of the books.]

Todays Featured Indies Introduce titles are Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin and Steering Toward Normal by Rebecca Petruck.

FC9781619631533Knightley and Son

Rohan Gavin



Ages 8-12

Knightley & Son is the perfect book for lovers of mystery, intrigue, British humor, and nefarious self-help books. Detective Alan Knightley has been in an unexplained coma for four years. Son Darkus has been reading up on his father’s case files determined to find the explanation. When Knightley suddenly wakes up, Darkus insists that his father needs his help, especially since there seem to be odd side-effects of the coma. What do self-help books have to do with it? Everything! Obviously. Well, probably. It’s hard to tell prove. Enter Knightley & Son.

FC9781419707322Steering Toward Normal

Rebecca Petruck

Amulet Books


Ages 9-13

Diggy, like many 8th graders, has a hobby. A hobby that takes up most of his out-of-school hours. It requires dedication, perseverance, practice, patience, and rope. He raises calves for competition at the Minnesota State Fair and this year, he is ready to win. He is not ready to have classmate Wayne dropped off at his house with the declaration that Wayne is his half-brother. Wayne’s mother has recently passed away and his father decides he doesn’t want to raise another man’s son. The events hit a little too close to home, because Diggy himself was once dropped off at that same farm when his own mother decided she wasn’t ready to take care of a baby. While Diggy, and then Wayne, try to raise two calves, their father tries to raise both of them, which also takes dedication, perseverance, and patience (no rope). Steering Toward Normal is a family story; it’s about families who unexpected end up together and families who chose to stay together, and it’s about dedication, perseverance, practice, and patience.

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Indies Introduce: Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and Salvage

[Note: I was honored to be invited to the Indies Introduce Children’s panel last summer. A group of ten booksellers from all over the country read through middle grade and young adult novels by first-time novelists. We had regular conference calls discussing each book and eventually selected what we considered to be the ten best books by debut authors. Those books are now (woot!) being published and I’m excited to introduce them to the Eight Cousins community. Over the next few days, I’ll discuss each of the books. ]

Today’s featured Indies Introduce titles are Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton and Salvage by Alexandra Duncan.

FC9780763665661Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

Leslye Walton

Candlewick Press


Ages 14+

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender sparked a tremendous amount of discussion among our panel about book categories and readers’ ages. Some argued that this particular book was *not* YA (young adult), thus raising questions about what exactly YA is. In Ava Lavender, the main character is a teenager, but she doesn’t appear in the story until about 75 pages in. Ava does narrate the story of her youth, but is in her late 70s when she tells the story. The book, therefore, challenges the assumption that YA books are about teens. As far as content goes, there are frank references to sex — it is a story about three generations of a family after all. Finally, who are the intended readers. Ava Lavender, since it deals occasionally with middle age, married life, and parenting teens?   It is a cross-over book to be sure, but the more I heard people arguing that this particular book was *not* YA, the more convinced I became that it *was* YA. While I’m still struggling a bit to precisely explain why (one of the things I love about books is that they are elusive and defy easy summaries), I would argue that it has to do with the book’s tone. Ava, although a much older narrator, tells the story of her family and her youth in a very youthful way. And by youthful I mean that she doesn’t always get bogged down by the details. She doesn’t explain everything — often letting the reader fill in the gaps — and she doesn’t let emotions become overly burdensome. The story, as the title suggests, contains sorrows, but it is very light and free. Readers will walk away from this book feeling uplifted. The Stories of Ava Lavender is magical realism in the spirit of Isabel Allende (one of my favorite writers when I was a teen). The writing and characters are fantastically unusual. But it’s refusal to be pinned down in one particular category is precisely what makes this book worth reading.


Alexandra Duncan

Greenwillow Books


Ages 13+

Salvage also defies easy categorization. The story takes place in the future. Earth still exists, but communities have moved to vessels and therefore sometimes becoming insulated and completely separated from the outside world. Ava’s community is — well we would describe it as backward. The disparity between the sexes is firmly implemented in her society’s structure. Women are caregivers, food providers, and mostly silent and submissive. Ava’s mathematical and technical knowledge must be carefully guarded, but she firmly subscribes to her inferior role. Her innocence and naiveté lead her to make a social blunder of such magnitude that she is sentenced to death by the the women of her society. Her escape to earth — near-future Mumbai — becomes a catalyst for self-discovery. Along the way she also learns more about her own family and how her ancestors’ decisions influenced her own experiences. Salvage isn’t for anyone who wants a quick book. It requires commitment; Ava’s journey isn’t always straight-forward. Nevertheless, the satisfaction of recognizing how much Ava has grown in the course of this novel is well worth the time.


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